Did someone say ‘more con artists?’ Scammers and influencers collide on ‘Scamfluencers’

Society & Culture April 14, 2022
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How far will people go for power, money, and fame? And when schemers and con artists gain the money and notoriety they hoped for, how does it all goes wrong? Scaachi Koul and Sarah Hagi share these kinds of stories all season on “Scamfluencers.”

From predatory social media mavens to fashion, finance, health, and wellness influencers, these cunning individuals can prey on anyone and everyone. We’ll hear about charming healers, financial experts, dating gurus, and others who swindled the masses. This podcast also looks into why people believe the scams and how culture enables scammers to succeed.

Check out new episodes of Wondery’s “Scamfluencers” on Mondays. We’d recommend starting the series from episode 1, with multiple episodes covering each story. The first few episodes are titled “Black Swan, Inc.,” a sketchy company known as the “Fyre Festival of the ballet world.” This odd story took so many twists and turns then resulted in The Black Swan Murder. So far, episodes are under 45 minutes on average.

Doug and Ashley Benefield were a couple who wanted to revolutionize the world of dance. Ashley, a 24-year-old ballerina, met 54-year-old businessman, Doug, at a dinner and got married 13 days later. Doug had a 15-year-old daughter, Eva, from his previous marriage to Renee, who died from a heart condition, according to her autopsy.

Doug did not tell his daughter he had married Ashley until afterward, which complicated the dynamics when Ashley moved into Doug’s home. Eva claimed Doug and Ashley would often argue and Ashley demonstrated jealous behavior.

Ashley told Doug about her failed ballet dreams, auditioning non-stop for gigs, and getting rejected due to her 5’9″ stature, 4 inches taller than the average professional ballerina. Ashley retired from professional dance at 24 and wanted to help ballerinas be recognized as artists regardless of age or size. This is where the scheming began.

Doug and Ashley used their influence to start a diverse, inclusive, and body-positive ballet company for unconventional dancers called the American National Ballet. Dancers joined and put their livelihoods in the hands this company, hoping their careers would blossom.

But little did they know, the business was spinning out of control and struggling. American National Ballet’s dancers were not paid, and a disaster loomed on the horizon. At the same time, Doug and Ashley’s relationship took a terrible turn.

During home arguments in 2017, Doug fired his gun into the ceiling, among other abusive behavior, alleged by Ashley. She was pregnant with their child and fled, leaving a handwritten note asking Doug not to follow her. In October 2017, Ashley left American National Ballet and notified everyone via a public social media post. New leadership fired a number of dancers, and she was devastated that the company was crumbling.

Ashley reported Doug to law enforcement, and they investigated the gun-firing allegations. She also called for them to investigate whether or not Doug poisoned Ashley and his former wife, Renee. In 2018, Ashley gave birth in secret at a hospital.

Despite Ashley’s attempts to keep Doug away, the judge granted shared custody of their daughter. In 2019, the couple reconciled and spent time co-parenting. When Ashley dropped their daughter off for visitation one day, Doug spotted an engagement ring on her finger.

He hired a private investigator to tail Ashley and found out she was dating someone, prompting Doug to file for divorce. Ashley accused Doug of physically and sexually abusing their daughter, Doug denied, and Child Protective Services did not find any evidence.

In 2020, the couple made amends once again and planned to move to Maryland with their daughter and Ashley’s mother. In September 2020, Ashley walked to Doug’s house holding a gun, claimed Doug attacked her, and she shot him. He died later on at the hospital. Ashley was charged for second-degree murder in November 2020 and plead not guilty.

Later this season, we’ll learn about a fake social media influencer, a Hollywood Ponzi schemer, and more insidious characters who impacted victims and what happened when their houses of cards fell down.

If you like podcasts like “WeCrashed,” “Inventing Anna,” and “Scam Goddess,” we think you might also enjoy “Scamfluencers.” Tune in Mondays for new episodes. Wondery+ subscribers get early and ad-free access to new episodes.

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